- Carrying Off the Palaces: John Ruskin's Lost Daguerreotypesby Ken Jacobson and Jenny Jacobson
This sumptuous book, Carrying Off the Palaces: John Ruskin's Lost Daguerreotypes, imposing almost to the point of unwieldiness, is suffused with the excitement caused by the discovery of a lost archive. Long interested in the history of photography, Ken and Jenny Jacobson identified and bought at auction, against strong competition, a box of one hundred eighty-eight daguerreotypes of architectural subjects relating to John Ruskin's European tours of the late 1840s and 1850s. They have undertaken in this book to make their discovery public and give it proper scholarly resonance by means of an abundantly contextualized study. The daguerreotypes were assembled by Ruskin, who had variously purchased them locally, commissioned them from professional photographers, or most interestingly, and working with his valets on site, closely supervised their production. The existence of these daguerreotypes has long been known to Ruskin scholars through the catalogues of the rather chaotic and improvised 1931 Brantwood sales. The contents of another wooden box of glass plates sold at the same sale is now in the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University, and a number of other collections hold smaller numbers of plates. The Penrith Collection extends the number of known Ruskinian daguerreotypes to three hundred twenty-five. The Lancaster Collection of daguerreotypes has been extensively studied as important evidence of Ruskin's approach to reading architectural detail and as testimony to his early adoption of photography not just as a form of visual record but also as an aesthetically complex way of seeing. Clearly the daguerreotypes now made available by the Jacobsons through this extensive and wonderfully illustrated volume do something more than just reiterate understanding of Ruskin's photographic interests and practices, and offer the opportunity for a much more detailed account of his relationship to the camera, however ambiguous, to emerge.
The book is elaborately but logically structured to ensure that every conceivable way of approaching the photographs is given due weight. A prefatory account of the pursuit and purchase of the mahogany box and its contents gives way to a brief biography of Ruskin. The following chapters give an account of the three major phases of Ruskin's attention to the daguerreotype—the Venetian and Tuscan tours undertaken between 1845 and 1846, the visits to Rouen, the Alps and Venice between 1848 and 1852, and trips to France and Switzerland between 1854 and 1858. Between 1845 and 1846 Ruskin [End Page 331]worked with his valet John Hobbs, but the particular interest of this chapter lies in the nature and extent of Ruskin's collaboration with professional photographers, especially in the ways in which Ruskin superimposed his architectural vision on those people he employed to carry out the mechanics of taking the pictures. The identification of Le Cavalier Iller as Ruskin's collaborator at this time offers a significant new insight into Ruskin's photographic practices, and their collaboration produced many extraordinarily beautiful images of Venice and Verona, which are vividly reproduced here. Each chapter locates Ruskin's photographic interests in both his personal history and the drawings he was making at the same time. The three chapters conclude with a speculation on the so-called authorship of photographs, a particularly difficult issue given the complex nature of the ways in which Ruskin imprinted his presence on his collaborators.
Chapters follow that consider the (brief) history of the daguerreotype, the startlingly wide range of Ruskin's links to people with interests in photography, and his engagement with the gathering and understanding of architectural calotypes and other forms of photography, a chapter that also offers new insight into Ruskin's use of photographic illustrations in his own later publications. Three further chapters, which rightly point to Ruskin's often contradictory attitudes to the camera and its products and to a comparative lack of scholarly work on his artistic endeavors in both watercolor and photography, concentrate on a discussion of his understanding of photography as an aesthetic...